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AidData to share in $2.5 million Minerva Initiative grant

AidData was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Initiative as part of an international consortium of institutions that will study the relationship between foreign assistance and intrastate conflict. The research grant, amounting to $2.5 million over three years, will allow a team of scholars to examine whether development aid makes countries more or less resilient to violent conflict within their own borders.

AidData is a collaborative initiative headquartered at William & Mary that is transforming evaluation of the impact of aid by making pertinent information about aid projects more accessible and usable. Two AidData collaborators, William & Mary and Development Gateway, will partner on the research with the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland, the lead institution on the grant, as well as the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva, Switzerland) and the Institute of Development Studies (Brighton, United Kingdom).

“Scholars and policymakers alike want to know the conditions under which foreign aid projects can ameliorate or exacerbate violent conflict,” said W&M Professor Mike Tierney, co-founder of AidData and director of the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations. “We want to use new data and new methods to understand how the amount, type and location of aid projects affect the onset, escalation and destructiveness of sub-national conflict. We also want to learn what types of aid interventions can lead to the cessation of conflict and durability of peace settlements.”

Mike TierneyApproximately 40 William & Mary undergraduate students will be involved directly in the work and will train a similar set of counterparts at the University of Maryland.

The Minerva Initiative was initiated in 2008 by former Secretary of Defense and current W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98. The initiative’s mission is to build a deeper understanding of the social, cultural and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world. Minerva-funded scholars have already imparted important insights to senior officials and decision makers in the defense policy community and on the ground at combat commands.

The new study involving AidData seeks to provide more conclusive answers to the question of whether foreign aid promotes peace and security or introducing such aid into a conflict context instead contributes to violence since actors capture or divert the assistance.

Working closely with its partners, the AidData team at William & Mary will geocode aid projects in seven countries that have experienced conflict (beginning with Iraq and Nigeria), while Development Gateway will build a prototype of an online interactive dashboard to customize visualization of the data, examination of patterns and trends and exploration of the dynamics of simulated counterfactuals. The dashboard will include a mapping component, allowing users to understand better how aid and conflict interact at specific sub-national locations.Dan Runfola

“Interstate conflict has been falling dramatically for decades,” said Dan Runfola, geospatial scientist at AidData, “but intrastate conflict continues to be a considerable issue worldwide. By using subnational information, intrastate conflict can be assessed in a data-driven way.”

Tierney highlights that AidData was selected as a partner because of its status as the preeminent provider of the most extensive data sets in the world on foreign aid and other types of development finance.

“We cover more dollars and more donors than any other source,” he said, “so if you want to know the impact of aid on conflict, you would want the most comprehensive and systematic source.”

According to Tierney, William & Mary is an ideal institution to be involved in the study, which he said “holds great promise for promoting inter-disciplinary engagement, hands-on immersive learning experiences for undergraduate students and inter-institutional cooperation.

“We have excellent scholars who work on foreign aid and development and a different group that works on peace, conflict and international security. This study could serve as a bridge to bring these folks together through collaborative research opportunities.”

Martha Staid of Development Gateway contributed to this story